That’s How I Got to Manchester
By Daniel Carpenter
Location: The Hilton Hotel, Deansgate
The bridge is encased in a kind of tunnel, this cylindrical fibreglass covering the whole thing. It’s dark brown, the kind of murky colour that everyone in the Seventies thought was fashionable. I can’t see out of the sides, except the odd clear patch where kids have scratched the paint off with keys. I peer through one, and get my first glimpse of the city outside, dark and wet, cars shooting past underneath me.
In my pocket, scrawled handwritten instructions that have got me this far, from the station, to the tunnel, then over the tram track to the hotel. Midway up, red light, and in big capital letters – HARD TO MISS. The note’s been in my pocket for almost a month. Keep asking myself: was it just because I was too poor, couldn’t afford to come here? Or was it something else.
Big capital letters – HARD TO SAY.
I can feel the cold, pushing its way down the tunnel past me, and I pull my coat close to me. Wrinkles on the note from Mondays spent worrying, Thursdays in hope, weekends scrunched up in the bottom of my purse. And in small print at the bottom, written with a pen that didn’t quite work, ‘see you soon’.
Coming out of the tunnel and the wind hits me, the cold air ploughing through my coat, making it billow out. When I breathe in it has that stale bitterness to it and I can see my breath in front of me. It dissipates and rises, and I follow up and up, and that’s when I see it. In front of me, towering over everything in my sight, the hotel, and the mid-section, this red line against the darkness. The outline of the building bleeds into the night sky so effortlessly that it looks as though that red middle floor is on its own, just floating above the city. I make my way over the tram tracks and head towards it.
The girl at the reception desk hasn’t heard of him, ‘I’m new though,’ she says, ‘Don’t think I’ve met everyone, I’ll go fetch someone who might know who he is,’ and off she trots into the bustling restaurant. I look out of the window and all I can see are lights, from streets, cars, flats, shops, restaurants. In the distance a Ferris wheel turns, and beyond that more lights, houses, suburbs.
The girl comes back, this time she’s got a guy with her, in his thirties.
‘So you must be Grace?’
‘That’s me.’ I shake his hand.
‘You know, Steve told me so much about you, feel like I know you already. Look, I got five minutes, you want to get a drink somewhere?’
‘Steve’s not working?’
‘No, not really.’